Alzheimer's Facts: Everything You Need To Know

By Patricia Oelze

Updated December 21, 2018

Reviewer Prudence Hatchett, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH

As people age, they may worry about their health and declines in physical functioning. Aging also brings cognitive changes. Every person will experience some decline in memory and cognitive functioning. In some cases, people develop dementia or Alzheimer's Disease. These conditions may seem scary. There are some myths and misconceptions about what happens in Alzheimer's Disease. Having the facts about Alzheimer's Disease is important. Learn ten interesting Alzheimer's Disease Facts:

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  1. Alzheimer's Disease Is Just One Cause Of Memory Declines

The term Alzheimer's Disease is familiar to most people, and it is known to affect memory. When experiencing significant memory declines during later life, many people will immediately be concerned that they have Alzheimer's Disease. However, there are other disorders that can also cause problems with memory. For example, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia, and Frontotemporal Dementia are all other types of dementia associated with memory problems. Thyroid problems, low blood sugar, infection, and even depression can also cause memory problems that can remit with treatment.

  1. How Many People Have Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Disease statistics indicate that an estimated 5.7 million Americans have the condition. At the current rates of diagnosis, it is believed that this number will continue to rise, likely reaching approximately 14 million Americans by the year 2050. Most people are diagnosed after age 65. However, approximately 200,000 Americans develop early-onset Alzheimer's Disease.

Alzheimer's Disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Alzheimer's itself does not directly cause death. However, related health problems, such as respiratory and other infections, often occur leading to death. Additionally, declines in the ability to provide self-care independently do also contribute to the rates of death. Deaths linked to Alzheimer's increase each year.

Alzheimer's statistics also reveal that 16.1 million people in America help to provide care to people with this condition or some other form of dementia. These caregivers often go unpaid for this work. Often, they are family or friends, who take on the task of caring for their loved one. All that caregiving can add up. Across the nation, caregivers gave approximately 18.4 billion hours of care. If that care were paid for, it would cost approximately 232 billion dollars. In general, the treatment and care of people with dementia or Alzheimer's disorder are costly, and those costs continue to rise over time.

  1. Alzheimer's Disease Affects More Than Memory

Many people may find most associate memory problems with Alzheimer's Disease. Indeed, declines in memory are one of the first symptoms to appear and one of the primary features of the disorder. However, there are other changes in cognitive functioning that also occur. Someone with Alzheimer's may have difficulty focusing and may become easily confused. They may become more easily frustrated, have mood swings, and even show other mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression. There also may be some physical problems such as loss of coordination.

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  1. Alzheimer's Disease Progresses Through Stages

Alzheimer's symptoms usually start mild and progress over time to become increasingly severe. The disease has been divided into stages. In the early stages, the most noticeable problem will be memory problems, such as forgetting information or losing items. As the decline continues, there will be more cognitive problems. It may become increasingly difficult for the person to plan, organize, and remember. Overtime, there will be problems with activities such as talking and calculating solutions to math problems. Eventually, someone with Alzheimer's will lose the ability to care for themselves.

  1. A Combination Of Factors Can Increase The Risk Of Alzheimer's

Doctors are not entirely sure about all the factors that might cause a person to develop Alzheimer's Disease. The disorder seems to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Research has shown that when there is a family history of Alzheimer's, there is a greater likelihood of developing the condition. It seems that certain genetic mutations may cause this. Environment and certain life events may also increase the risk.

Research shows that a head injury earlier in life is linked to an increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer's Disease later in life. Certain health conditions such as high cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease are also linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer's.

  1. Alzheimer's Is Due To Neuron Damage From Two Processes

Although the initial causes of Alzheimer's Disease are complex and unclear, researchers have learned about the processes that malfunction and lead to Alzheimer's symptoms. One process that happens is that twisted strands of the protein tau start to unravel. They form neurofibrillary tangles. Not only are these structures disruptive, but the tau being out of place means that nutrients cannot be properly transported to the nerve cells. Without those nutrients, the nerve cells eventually die.

Additionally, protein fragments called beta-amyloid start to build clusters called plaques between the nerve cells. The plaques block signaling between the nerve cells of the brain, which means they cannot communicate.

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  1. Alzheimer's Disease Usually Starts In The Hippocampus

Research has found that the brain is comprised of many parts that each control various functions or contribute to different capabilities. The limbic system, which works with emotion, seems to also play a big role in memory. Even within this system, the hippocampus is the specific part of the brain that moves information into long-term memory.

Research through brain scans shows that the damage associated with the tangles and plaques usually starts near the hippocampus and then spreads elsewhere throughout the brain. That is why the earliest symptom is memory loss.

  1. Alzheimer's Disease Is Difficult To Diagnose

When dementia or Alzheimer's is suspected, a doctor will order many assessments and evaluations to determine the diagnosis. However, there is no definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer's Disease. Instead, doctors rule out other possible conditions. Once that is done, then they assume the symptoms must be due to Alzheimer's. This allows for the treatment of the symptoms. After death, the disorder can be officially diagnosed or essentially, the diagnosis is confirmed. This is done as part of an autopsy when slices of the brain can be examined under a microscope for the presence of tangles and plaques.

  1. Alzheimer's Disease Can Be Treated But Cannot Be Cured

Unfortunately, Alzheimer's is a progressive disorder that worsens over time. There is also no known cure and no way to slow the progression of Alzheimer's once it starts. This is because the tangles and plaques continue to form. Science has not yet found a solution. However, research has developed treatments that can help slow the progression of Alzheimer's symptoms. These treatments are various forms of medication that act on the brain and its neurotransmitters. The available prescription treatments can help people to maintain independence and quality of life.

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Researchers continue to look for medical treatments. For example, research on statins and Alzheimer's has shown mixed findings. It is thought that these may be helpful because they reduce Cardiovascular Disease and indeed, they seem most helpful for Vascular Dementia. It is unclear whether this treatment will be consistently helpful for those with Alzheimer's Disease. In some cases, it seems to worsen the confusion and cognitive problems. Scientists will continue to investigate the potential benefits.

  1. Alzheimer's Disease May Be Preventable

There is no guaranteed way to prevent Alzheimer's Disease. However, there are ways to help reduce the risk of developing the disorder. Research has shown that physical activity is helpful because it promotes blood flow and prevents other health conditions that would themselves increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disorder.

Eating a healthy diet is similarly helpful. Sleep is known to be helpful for promoting and maintaining all cognitive functioning, including memory. Drinking in moderation and avoiding smoking are also recommended. Keeping the mind active, staying social, and taking care of one's mental health are also important steps. Finally, adequate medical care appears to be helpful.

Recommendations

Everyone experiences changes as they age. There will be some declines in physical and cognitive functioning. However, if those changes are severe and affect your ability to function, there may be more serious dementia or Alzheimer's Disease. With these interesting facts about Alzheimer's, you can be more attuned to symptoms you have. If you notice symptoms of severe memory loss, difficulty finding words, and challenges with completing your daily task then visit a doctor. A medical professional can assess your physical and cognitive symptoms to make a diagnosis and to determine the right treatments.

Normal aging can be difficult to adjust to. Dealing with the symptoms of severe memory loss or other significant changes can be even more upsetting. If you suspect a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease or receive confirmation of this diagnosis, you might want support. Many people use therapy to manage the grief, depression, and anxiety. Often, caregivers can also benefit from the support of counseling.

Trained therapists can help those with Alzheimer's Disease and their caregivers manage the physical, cognitive, psychological, and emotional changes that occur with the disorder. If you are struggling with adjusting to age, dealing with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease, or in a caregiving role, you can seek out therapy help locally or access online counseling. Many people prefer to utilize therapy through online platforms. This method allows convenient access to help, at any time you prefer it.


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